Conflict Minerals Explained: Gadget Obsessions Fuel Congo’s Conflict

The average American spends about $1,200 a year on consumer electronics. That includes everything from mobile phones, laptops, and MP3 players to televisions and game consoles. And every time a consumer buys one of these products, they may be directly contributing to the continuing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This strife has claimed millions of lives, turned children into soldiers, and grown into the “deadliest conflict in the world since World War II” according to John Pendergrast, founder of the Enough Project.

Yes, this is a bold and disturbing statement to make. After all, how can buying a laptop or upgrading a smart phone possibly make us complicit in all of that?

It’s not the products themselves that are the problem, but what’s inside them. Most of the consumer electronics sold in the U. S. contain metals in high demand by manufacturers: gold, tantalum, tin, and tungsten. Though mined globally, these minerals are found in the Congo, and the mines there are controlled by local militias. It’s these groups that commit heinous human rights violations against the Congolese people and benefit from the world’s seemingly insatiable appetite for new gadgets.

Thanks to a provision in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, companies that sell products to American consumers will now have to account for the origins of these metals and the minerals they come from in their supply chain. And non-profit organizations such as the Enough Project and Global Witness are working to develop a certification scheme similar to the Kimberley Protocol for blood diamonds. But it’s going to take pressure from consumers to bring about the advent of truly conflict-free technology.

Conflict Minerals Explained

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